US President Barack Obama 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Around 50 US-based experts on Middle East policy and strategy signed an open
letter to President Barack Obama this week imploring him to demonstrate greater
leadership on the Syria crisis.
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Their petition calls for tougher
sanctions, greater contact with Syria’s opposition and the creation of havens
for the protection of Syrian civilians. Signatories include expatriate activists
from Syria, Lebanon and Egypt as well as commentators, academics and former
top-level national security officials Elliott Abrams, L. Paul Bremer and Douglas
The letter calls for four specific actions to help bring an end to
the “brutality” the regime of President Bashar Assad has inflicted on its
First, it appeals to the White House to support “crippling”
sanctions on Damascus proposed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Mark Kirk and Joe
Lieberman, and representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Eliot Engel.
it recommends the formation of a contact group of international allies to
coordinate strategies for increasing pressure on Assad.
Third, it calls for greater
interaction with the Syrian opposition, “especially the Syrian National Council,
as well as those who have defected from the Syrian military,” to evaluate their
leadership and weigh options for increasing their influence.
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suggests working with Turkey and other international partners to create havens
for Syrians fleeing the violence, “as well as no-go zones for the Assad regime’s
“The Syrian government, which has been on the State
Department’s State Sponsors of Terror list since 1979, maintains a strategic
partnership with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
For years, the Assad regime
also assisted the transit of foreign fighters who were responsible for killing
numerous American troops in Iraq,” the signatories wrote.
of a representative Syrian government that protects the rights of all of its
citizens and opposes violent extremism in all forms would therefore be a
significant blow to Tehran and dramatically improve regional security and
The letter also criticizes the Obama administration for
warning all parties in Syria against “militarizing” the uprising.
Badran, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – the Washington
think tank that released the letter on Monday, along with the Foreign Policy
Initiative – said those remarks have been counterproductive.
administration has consistently expressed its preference for peaceful
opposition, and has at times even made statements that could be read as actively
discouraging an armed resistance, saying that could jeopardize international
support,” Badran, a signatory to the petition, told The Jerusalem Post. “So
there’s a problem in the administration’s conceptualization of a peaceful versus
Regarding military intervention, the letter confines
its recommendation to humanitarian measures to protect civilians in Syria. But
Seth Cropsey, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former US national security
official, said he personally supports the deployment of special forces to the
“Military intervention could be useful in the form of special
operations forces that would help organize, train and equip groups that oppose
Assad,” he told the Post. “I support the use of such forces, as well as
intelligence assets” to help unseat the Syrian president,” said Cropsey, who
also signed the petition.
Assad agreed earlier this week to allow
monitors into Syria to oversee the implementation of an Arab League peace plan,
but Badran said the move would not likely have a tangible effect on the ground.
He noted that Damascus has agreed to allow them in only “in coordination with
Syrian authorities” and has said it would bar them from “military areas” the
government can designate at its whim.
“What happens when there is no real
implementation? Will the Arab League still muster the consensus to condemn and
refer to the UN Security Council? Will it maintain sanctions? Or will Assad,
through this maneuver, succeed in further torpedoing Arab consensus against him,
thus helping him further negotiate and buy time?” he asked.
also to keep in mind with these types of initiatives, is Lebanon during the
civil war [of 1975-1990]. We saw countless ‘initiatives’ to stop the fighting...
that amounted to nothing,” said Badran, who is Lebanese. “Let’s see the
implementation. My sense is that everyone is expecting him not to abide by it.
Then the question will be what happens next.”
Cropsey said he too puts
little stock in Assad’s gesture.
“I don’t take Syria’s nominal agreement
to accept Arab League monitors seriously,” he said. “Assad wants to stay in
power and will do what he thinks necessary to achieve this.”
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